May 13, 2010

Destruction of Property during the Conflict

On December 27, 2008, Israel launched what it called Operation Cast Lead.  The stated aim of the military operation was to stop the ongoing rocket fire into Israel from Palestinian armed groups in Gaza.  After a large-scale air campaign, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on January 3, 2009 launched a major ground offensive. Israeli troops began to withdraw from Gaza early on January 18. The IDF operations killed some 1,387 Palestinians, at least 762 of whom were civilians, according to a list of names published by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.[1]  Thirteen Israelis died during the fighting, three of them civilians.[2]

Beyond the loss of human life, the war in Gaza resulted in the destruction of thousands of private homes, as well as public infrastructure, factories, businesses and workshops, vehicles, and agricultural land and animals.  The sheer extent of the destruction does not, in itself, indicate violations of international humanitarian law (the laws of war).  However, Human Rights Watch’s investigation into 12 incidents found that in these specific cases the IDF destroyed extensive civilian property in apparent violation of the laws of war.  We do not claim that these violations are typical of the destruction in Gaza generally – the lawfulness or unlawfulness of which must still be assessed.  In conducting that investigation,  Israel should examine whether any violations were due to policies adopted by the military or the government.  Property may be destroyed only for imperative reasons of military necessity and in accordance with the rules of proportionality. 

According to a joint survey by UN agencies, the fighting destroyed 3,540 housing units in Gaza and 2,870 sustained severe damage during Operation Cast Lead.[3] Fighting and destruction during the war caused displacement of more than 50,000 people.[4]  As of March 2010, humanitarian workers in Gaza informed Human Rights Watch that several factories in Gaza were operating to produce concrete cinderblocks (or breeze blocks) by combining the pulverized rubble of destroyed buildings with cement smuggled through the tunnels from Egypt, and that some reconstruction of damaged homes using this material was underway in refugee camps and cities in Gaza.[5]  However, these sources reported that the vast majority of  destroyed homes, particularly in areas of Gaza that saw extensive destruction during the war like Izbt Abd Rabbo, have not been rebuilt or repaired.  While the price of cement and metal bars smuggled into Gaza via tunnels had dropped to 900 Israeli shekels (US $240) and 2000 shekels (US $540) per ton, respectively, by March, these prices appeared to remain out of reach for the majority of Gazans whose homes were totally destroyed.[6]  As of November, ten months after the war, at least 20,000 people remained displaced, in large part due to Israel’s ban on importing into Gaza construction material such as cement, needed to rebuild housing.[7]  (According to a January 18, 2009 statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel permits “humanitarian aid” to enter Gaza, but “cement, sand, gravel and steel are not considered to be humanitarian aid.”)[8] The displaced have had no choice but to remain with their relatives, in rented apartments, in makeshift accommodations next to the ruins of their homes, or in tented camps.  As of November, thousands of families continued to live in sections of badly damaged homes, and 120 families, including 500 children, were still living in tents provided ten months previously by international aid organizations.  Intended as temporary accommodations, many of the tents are unfit for use in winter.[9] In December, the UN completed the first of 122 planned “compressed earth block” structures, intended to improve the lives of those still living in tented camps or in makeshift shelters near their damaged or destroyed homes.[10]

According to the UN Refugee Welfare Agency (UNRWA), which assists Palestinian refugees, wartime attacks destroyed public and service sector infrastructure, including government buildings, bridges and 57 kilometers of asphalt roads (and other roads), and damaged 107 UNRWA installations, almost 20,000 meters of pipes, four water reservoirs, 11 wells, and sewage networks and pumping stations.[11]  Because the Israeli blockade had made building materials and supplies unavailable, as of August, the agency reported that it would not be able to conduct US$43 million worth of needed repairs to refugee shelters and UNRWA installations “damaged during Operation Cast Lead."[12] A report prepared for the UK parliament in March 2010 reported that UNRWA remained unable to complete several housing projects, comprising some 2,400 housing units, that had been on hold since June 2007 when Israel blocked shipments of construction materials after the Hamas takeover of Gaza.[13] On March 24, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon informed the UN Security Council that Israel had approved shipments of cement sufficient to complete construction of 151 housing units near Khan Younis as well as repairing several facilities damaged during the conflict, including the Badr Flour Mill.  While welcoming the step, Ban noted that “One hundred and fifty-one units amount to far less than 1 per cent of the needs in the shelter sector alone, to say nothing of other needs. I have informed Israel that we will come back with more far-reaching proposals.”[14]

Israeli attacks on Gaza’s electricity infrastructure caused an estimated $10 million in damage, according to Gisha, an Israeli nongovernmental organization; on January 3, the first day of the Israeli ground offensive, Israeli attacks “damaged and put out of commission seven of the 12 electrical power lines that connect Gaza to Israel and Egypt.”[15]  On January 13, Israeli aircraft bombed a warehouse containing spare parts needed for repairs to the grid that it had recently allowed Gaza’s utility, GEDCO, to import.[16]

The military offensive destroyed 18 schools (including eight kindergartens) and damaged at least 262 other schools. In North Gaza alone, nearly 9,000 students had to relocate to other schools after their own schools were destroyed.[17] 

The war destroyed 268 private business establishments in Gaza and damaged another 432, causing total damage estimated at over $139 million (after discounting for inflated claims), according to a preliminary assessment by a Palestinian group published in February.[18] A study of the industrial sector, published in March, reported that 324 factories and workshops were damaged or destroyed during the war.[19] These reports documented damage to physical structures, equipment and machinery, inventories of raw materials and finished goods, and in some cases, to electronic and paper documentation.  As of December 2008, prior to Israel’s military offensive, approximately 4,000 employees worked in the establishments that were subsequently destroyed during the war. According to the Palestine Federation of Industries, a private sector umbrella group representing the industrial sector in Gaza, those employees’ jobs “provide[d] for more than 24,000 people who are now impoverished as a direct result of the war.”[20]  As of January 2010, the UN reported, Israel continued to block or severely restrict the entry to Gaza of raw materials needed for industry, as well as spare parts for Gaza’s sanitation and electrical networks, hindering post-war reconstruction.

The construction materials sub-sector was particularly devastated.  Human Rights Watch researchers did not survey all concrete ready-mix factories in Gaza, but at all seven of the factories we examined, every vehicle on factory grounds had been demolished, and many buildings and other pieces of equipment had been damaged or destroyed.  A preliminary survey of the damage to Gaza’s industrial sector reported in February that the war destroyed or damaged 22 of Gaza’s 29 ready-mix concrete factories, causing an “85 percent loss in the sub-sector’s potential capacity” and an estimated $27 million in damages.[21]

Israel’s military offensive resulted in an estimated $268 million in losses to the agricultural sector.  This includes $180 million in direct damage during the war to fruit, grain and vegetable crops, animal production, and infrastructure like greenhouses and farms, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  As OCHA noted, the severe damage to the agricultural sector is cause for concern for several reasons.  First, agriculture plays a vital role in generating economic activity in Gaza, due to “the failure of other economic sectors (including industry) to function, owing to the closure of Gaza’s commercial crossings since June 2007.” In addition, agriculture is a “traditional shock‐absorber” and plays a critical role in protecting livelihoods, especially in rural areas, “for communities whose other social safety nets fail to operate.”[22]  Agriculture is usually one of the few economic sectors that can recover quickly after a conflict, supplying needed food and jobs, but Israel’s continuing border blockade continues to exacerbate the damage done to the agricultural sector by the war, by making it extremely difficult to import materials to repair damaged infrastructure, new seedlings and farm animals, and many other necessary inputs from peat moss to heating gas for poultry farms that are difficult to obtain in Gaza.[23]  According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, “almost all Gaza’s 10,000 smallholder farms suffered damage and many have been completely destroyed” as a result of the war.[24] 

A Permissive, Destructive Policy

The conclusions this report draws relate to the unlawfulness of Israeli destruction of property in specific locations in Gaza and are based primarily on evidence gathered during investigations conducted in Gaza.  In addition, the destruction we documented in these cases appears consistent with statements by Israeli politicians and military officials, and soldiers who participated in the Gaza conflict, which described two rationales for property destruction that conflict with the Israeli military’s obligations under the laws of war not to destroy property except for reasons of imperative military necessity and in accordance with the principle of proportionality. 

First, statements by some Israeli politicians during and after “Operation Cast Lead” – the stated aim of which was to stop rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups –suggest that a doctrine of punitive attacks intended as a deterrent against rocket attacks may have informed the conduct of the IDF in some cases where it destroyed property unlawfully.  Then Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reportedly stated on January 12, 2009, that “Hamas now understands that when you fire on [Israel’s] citizens it responds by going wild, and this is a good thing."[25] Livni said on January 19, 2009, the day after the conflict ended, that “Israel demonstrated real hooliganism during the course of the recent operation, which I demanded.”[26] Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai said at a conference on February 2, 2009 that “we have to determine a price tag for every rocket fired into Israel,” and recommended that “even if they fire at an open area or into the sea, we must damage their infrastructures and destroy 100 houses.”[27]

Such statements are consistent with a statement and an article published before the conflict by Israeli military officials that advocated a doctrine of punitive property destruction intended to deter armed groups from attacking Israel.While these statements focused on Israel’s strategy in a future large-scale conflict in Lebanon, they are consistent with the destruction Human Rights Watch documented in some areas of Gaza. In October 2008, Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the commander of the IDF’s northern division, stated to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth:

What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 [which was severely damaged by Israeli military attacks] will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. … We will apply disproportionate force on it [the village] and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases. This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.[28]

International humanitarian law prohibits as indiscriminate any attack “which treats as a single military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military objectives located in a city, town, village or other area containing a similar concentration of civilians or civilian objects.”[29] The laws of war permit attacks on military objectives such as rocket launchers even if they are located in the midst of populated civilian areas so long as the attacker takes precautions to minimize harm to civilians and the expected civilian harm is proportionate to the military advantage anticipated (see “Legal Obligations”).

The Israeli government should repudiate statements by politicians and military officials that would apply such an unlawful, punitive doctrine to future conflicts.

In addition to the punitive rationale according to which the destruction of civilian property would deter future rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups, media reports and accounts from Israeli soldiers who participated in the Gaza offensive suggest a second rationale for property destruction: that the IDF would destroy property in order to improve Israel’s military position in Gaza after the conflict.  As discussed below and in the section of this report dealing with Israel’s legal obligations, attacks directed against civilian property solely on the grounds that it could potentially be used for military purposes are unlawful.

In some cases Israeli forces may have destroyed property in areas near the border to create a buffer zone that would be devoid of cover from which Palestinian armed groups could in future launch attacks against Israel.  This may have been the rationale for destruction of property in one of the cases documented in this report (see “Khuza’a”).  However, the laws of war do not permit a party to the conflict to raze all civilian structures in a given area on the grounds that it would provide a buffer zone for a potential future armed conflict (see “Legal Obligations”).

A reserve infantry first sergeant who fought in Operation Cast Lead told Human Rights Watch that at a briefing before he entered Gaza, the battalion commander of his unit said “that the army in our area was going to there with the intention to destroy not only pinpointed targets, but also to do destruction for what they called ‘the day after.’”[30]  The sergeant elaborated to Breaking the Silence, an Israeli group of IDF veterans, that “the expression ‘the day after’ was repeated time and again, even as we were still in action.”[31]  In addition to being authorized to attack houses that have been “a source of fire” from Palestinian armed groups, the sergeant said,

we were told there are houses to be demolished for the sake of “the day after.” The day after is actually a thought that obviously we're going in [to Gaza] for a limited period of time which could be a week and it might also be a few months. […]. And the rationale was that we want to come out with the area remaining sterile as far as we're concerned. And the best way to do this is by razing. That way we have good firing capacity, good visibility for observation, we can see anything, we control a very large part of the area and very effectively.[32]

According to the sergeant, the “day after” policy applied to any “strategic point … between half a kilometer to over one kilometer [from the border]. I don't remember precisely so I don't want to say, but it's at a reasonable distance [from the border].” The sergeant gave as an example of a “strategic point” a house on a hill from which “anyone on the top of that hill sees both the sea on one side [to the west] and the Israeli border on the other.” The sergeant acknowledged that he felt “a certain confusion” when it came to putting the “day after” policy into operation.  “I mean, you see a house, so what do you do? How? I felt the orders here were somewhat amorphous.”[33] The sergeant, whose unit operated during the conflict in a largely open area to the east of Zeytoun, south of Gaza City, said he knew “that this order was carried out in practice, for some of the houses that were demolished had not been incriminated” (i.e. they were not suspected of housing militants, booby-traps, weapons, or otherwise considered military objects).[34] In his area, “several [Caterpillar] D-9 bulldozers were operating around the clock, constantly busy” destroying houses.[35]  The first sergeant said that “nobody [in the IDF] was injured in our area,” and that he “didn’t see a single Palestinian during my whole week there,” although other soldiers in his unit reported sporadic attacks by Palestinian militants.[36] 

In cases where the “day after” policy was carried out in areas of Gaza near the border with Israel, the sergeant’s account is consistent with a report by the Jerusalem Post on January 11, 2009, that “the IDF was said to be carving out a ‘security zone’ along the border [with Gaza], which it would retain even after an end to the fighting and use to conduct routine patrols aimed at halting rocket attacks against the South.”[37]  It is possible that the IDF conducted extensive demolitions in order to create such a buffer area, although the article did not mention such destruction and the IDF did not, in fact, maintain a physical presence inside Gaza after the war.  Instead, on May 25 2009, the IDF doubled from 150 to 300 meters the amount of territory inside Gaza’s borders that it denies to Palestinians, by dropping leaflets warning Gaza residents to stay at least 300 meters away from the border or risk being shot.  In 2006, Palestinian militants dug a tunnel under the Israeli-Gazan border and captured Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit. In June 2009, Israeli Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Bron told the Christian Science Monitor that “The buffer zone makes the digging of such tunnels much more complicated and much more difficult […]. Israel established the zone mainly because Palestinian armed groups were attacking Israeli patrols with explosive charges on the Israeli side of the border.”[38]

One of the cases documented in this report – the destruction of 14 homes along the edge of the village of Khuza’a in the south eastern Gaza Strip – involved destruction of property within one kilometer of the Israeli border. Human Rights Watch is not aware of evidence or any IDF claims that Palestinian fighters used the houses later destroyed in Khuza’a as cover for tunnels, rocket or mortar attacks, or other military activity.  Apart from Khuza’a, the closest area to the border where Human Rights Watch documented large-scale destruction is Izbt Abd Rabbo and a nearby industrial zone, an area that lies roughly 2.5 kilometers from the border.  None of the destroyed buildings Human Rights Watch observed in Khuza’a or Izbt Abd Rabbo were situated in elevated areas of the kind that the IDF sergeant quoted above described as “strategic points.”

The destruction of civilian property to create a “sterile area” that would improve the military position of an attacker in potential future conflicts violates international humanitarian law.  While a civilian object that provides a concrete and perceptible military advantage could be justifiably destroyed, a civilian object does not become a target because its destruction would offer the attacker an advantage in a hypothetical future attack, or because of its potential future use as a military objective by the enemy.  Since allcivilian objects are potentially military objectives, permitting destruction based on possible future use would allow the destruction of all civilian structures. Thus, while a house protecting the entrance to a tunnel used for military purposes would be subject to destruction, a house that could hypothetically be used by Palestinian armed groups sometime in the indefinite future would not be.[39]

An Israeli soldier who operated a tank in northern Gaza during the conflict told Breaking the Silence, “the amount of destruction there was incredible. You drive around those neighborhoods, and can't identify a thing. Not one stone left standing over another. You see plenty of fields, hothouses, orchards, everything devastated. Totally ruined.”[40]  The soldier said that his tank worked in conjunction with D-9 military bulldozers to prepare “secondary protective positions” for IDF forces behind the front lines. If commanders in these areas “didn't like the looks of some house, if it disturbed or threatened them, then it would be taken down,” he said.[41] The laws of war permit house demolitions for imperative military reasons consistent with the laws of war.  However, the soldier speculated that only “maybe half” of the demolitions were carried out for “operational needs.”  In other cases, it seemed to him that the destruction was gratuitous: “sometimes the company commander would give the D-9s something to demolish just to make them happy.”[42]

Breaking the Silence provided Human Rights Watch with the transcript of an interview the group conducted with the operator of a Caterpillar D-9 militarized bulldozer.  The D-9 driver, who requested anonymity, said that he destroyed a large number of homes, orchards and greenhouses in an area of Gaza north of the Sufa border-crossing near the end of Israel’s military operations.  Before he entered Gaza, the driver said, he was “shocked” by the briefing that a commander gave his battalion:

 [The commander] said, “the fact that we're a democracy works against us, for the army cannot act as aggressively as it would like.” Then he repeated that we're going into this operation aggressively […]. Usually in such talks the army, the commanders mention the lives of civilians and showing consideration to civilians. Here he didn't even mention this. Just the brutality, go in there brutally. […] He said, “In case of any doubt, take down houses. You don't need confirmation for anything, if you want.”[43]

According to the D-9 driver, at a second briefing at the end of the operation, the commander told the battalion that they had demolished 900 houses. The driver found the figure plausible, considering that “around 60” soldiers were involved in operating bulldozers and the fact that “there were people who had been in Gaza for two days constantly demolishing one house after the other.” He added that some demolitions were carried out even after the ceasefire announced on January 18.

We were still going in, this time closer to the fence [along the armistice line] and not demolishing houses, just orchards and stuff like that. Only things that interfere with the ground. We'd flatten the ground near the fence to expand visibility from Israel to […] 200 meters from the fence. I didn't go in at that point, but it was 200 meters.[44]

The driver said he received radio instructions to destroy specific houses, and was not ordered simply to raze an entire area.  Nonetheless, he said, no IDF forces followed his bulldozer unit into Gaza and he confirmed that he was the “closing force.”  Rather than using the bulldozers to clear explosive charges to prepare the way for a subsequent infantry incursion, he helped raze an area that had already been cleared of militants, concealed tunnels and buildings where intelligence sources said militants might be hiding weapons.  It is unlawful to destroy civilian property on the grounds that it might be used by the enemy in potential future conflicts (see “Legal Obligations”).  Human Rights Watch observed destroyed civilian property in the area around the Sufa border crossing that was more than 2.8 kilometers from the border (see “Khuza’a, al-Shoka and al-Fokhari,” below). 

Several soldiers told Breaking the Silence that they were struck by the “nonstop” nature of home demolitions in areas that the IDF controlled.  A member of an Israeli tank crew who had been dug-in in an unspecified residential area in Gaza for a week, stated that Israeli troops destroyed homes in the area with explosive charges “almost daily, all the time,” although the area was emptied of militants and the Israeli forces exercised control. “There were constant blasts […]. Corps of Engineers was engaged there nonstop, with houses containing no one […], where no one was present, and anyway those houses were monitored and I, personally, never saw anyone in there […].”[45]

The IDF has on previous occasions destroyed property in Gaza that even if for a purported military purpose, far exceeded the limits of proportionality under international law – by destroying, for example, 16,000 homes in Rafah from 2000 to 2004, primarily in order to create a buffer zone along the border with Egypt. Human Rights Watch concluded that these house razings were done despite feasible less-destructive alternatives, including the use of ground-penetrating radar that could have detected the presence of tunnels and tactics such as filling up tunnel entrances with cement, indicating that the houses were destroyed “regardless of whether they posed a specific threat.”[46]

The IDF’s willingness to destroy property without sufficient military justification or that caused disproportionate civilian loss mirrored more general reports of military commanders sanctioning attacks on targets without taking all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians.A reservist, Amir Marmor, who served as a gunner in a tank crew operating in Jabalya, told The Jewish Chronicle:

We were there for a week and despite the fact that no-one fired on us, the firing and demolitions continued incessantly. I am very doubtful how many of the demolitions can be justified. We were told to expect incoming fire from various directions; our first reaction was to blow up or bulldoze houses in a given direction so as to give us better lines of fire. But then no fire came from that direction, or any other.[47]

Other soldiers described an extremely permissive atmosphere in which commanders failed to discipline soldiers who needlessly destroyed property.  “Aviv,” thesquad commander of a company from the Givati Brigade whose forces were in the Zaytoun neighborhood south of Gaza City, reported that soldiers vandalized houses “for no reason other than it’s cool …. You do not get the impression from the officers that there is any logic to it, but they won't say anything.”[48]

In a report published on July 29, 2009, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) stated that “extensive damage to civilian infrastructure and personal property did occur in the course of the Gaza Operation” but that “much of the damage was demanded by the necessities of war and was the outcome of Hamas’ mode of operating.”[49]  The report stated that some damage was due to Hamas’s use of explosive booby-traps, which created secondary explosions that caused damage to nearby property after IDF attacks, and that the IDF was required to destroy some booby-trapped buildings to protect its forces, and had to destroy other property in order to bypass booby-trapped roads and buildings.[50]  The MFA report did not mention the operational policy, discussed by soldiers, to destroy property for “the day after.”

As noted, the presence or reasonable suspicion of booby-traps or stored weapons would render otherwise civilian objects like residential buildings legitimate military targets.  According to an Israeli soldier who participated in the ground offensive, “many explosive charges were found […]. Tank Corps or Corps of Engineers units blew them up. Usually they did not explode because most of the ones we found were wired and had to be detonated, but whoever was supposed to detonate them had run off. It was live, however, ready….”[51] In some cases the IDF triggered booby-trap explosives that destroyed the building in which they were planted.  Breaking the Silence published the account of a soldier who witnessed such an incident near Zeytoun: “a D-9 bulldozer makes the rounds to verify that the house is not booby-trapped. Suddenly the D-9 jumps in the air and the entire ground floor collapses as well as part of the second floor.”[52]  In other cases, video footage recorded by Israeli aircraft shows secondary explosions triggered by Israeli attacks, apparently caused by weapons stored by Palestinian armed groups.  Some of these secondary explosions appear to have destroyed or damaged the targeted area as well as surrounding buildings.[53] 

In all the cases Human Rights Watch investigated in which large numbers of buildings were destroyed or damaged, there was clear evidence that the destruction was carried out by Israeli anti-tank mines or bulldozers.[54]  While other instances of property destruction could have been unlawful, we did not investigate cases that did not appear clearly to meet the laws-of-war criteria of extensive, unnecessary destruction in areas under effective control. In instances where Human Rights Watch found that Israeli forces could have had a lawful military reason for destroying property, no further inquiry was conducted, (see “Methodology”).

Similarly, IDF forces could legitimately destroy otherwise civilian objects where there were lawful militarily necessary reasons for doing so, such as because soldiers needed to conduct operations close to buildings that they reasonably suspected were booby-trapped or mined in ways that could have endangered soldiers nearby. In the cases Human Rights Watch investigated, the large scale of the destruction and the fact that it was carried out by the IDF days after taking control of the area are irreconcilable with such an explanation.  

The MFA report states:

IDF forces demolished structures that threatened their troops and had to be removed. These included (1) houses which were actually used by Hamas operatives for military purposes in the course of the fighting, (2) other structures used by Hamas operatives for terrorist activity, (3) structures whose total or partial destruction was imperatively required for military necessities, such as the movement of forces from one area to another (given that many of the roads were booby-trapped), (4) agricultural elements used as cover for terrorist tunnels and infrastructure, and (5) infrastructure next to the security fence between Gaza and Israel, used by Hamas for operations against IDF forces or for digging tunnels into Israeli territory.[55]

The laws of war do not prohibit the lawful destruction of structures, infrastructure and agricultural land that fall within the criteria listed by the MFA report.  These criteria do not apply to any of the cases Human Rights Watch researched for this report. The prior use by Hamas forces of civilian property is not in itself a sufficient justification under the laws of war for its destruction.  Nevertheless, Human Rights Watch did not find evidence of Hamas deployment of fighters, weapons or ammunition in infrastructure, or other militarily necessary reasons for Israel to destroy the property in most of the incidents we investigated.  As noted, our conclusions are limited to these individual incidents (which we do not claim to be representative of broader Israeli practice) that appear to have violated the laws of war and that Israel should investigate and repudiate so they are not repeated in future; we did not seek to investigate, and excluded from this report, cases of destruction that might have been due to military necessity.

[1] B’Tselem determined that Israeli attacks killed 330 combatants. It did not include in its list of civilian casualties 36 fatalities whose status as combatants or non-combatants it could not determine.  B’Tselem also did not include as civilian casualties 248 policemen killed at police stations on December 27, 2008, whom the IDF claimed were combatants, but stated, “taking into account the assumption that persons are deemed civilians unless proven otherwise, B’Tselem is unable to determine that all the police officers were legitimate targets and that the Palestinian police in Gaza, as an institution, is part of the combat forces of Hamas.”  (B’Tselem, “B’Tselem Publishes Complete Fatality Figures from Operation Cast Lead,” September 9, 2009,, accessed November 18, 2009.) According to the IDF, 1,166 Palestinians died in Operation Cast Lead.  From these people, 709 were “Hamas terror operatives,” 295 were non-combatants, and 162 men had an undetermined status.  The IDF did not produce a list of names. (IDF, “Vast Majority of Palestinians Killed in Operation Cast Lead Found to be Terror Operatives,” March 26, 2009,, accessed November 18, 2009.)

[2] This included four Israeli soldiers who were killed by IDF “friendly fire.” B’Tselem, “B’Tselem Publishes Complete Fatality Figures from Operation Cast Lead,” September 9, 2009.

[3] UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Locked In: The Humanitarian Impact of Two Years of Blockade on the Gaza Strip, August 20, 2009, p. 3,, accessed September 5, 2009.

[4] During the war, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 51,000 displaced people sought shelter in UN facilities; shortly after the war, a preliminary UN assessment conducted in January found that 71,657 people were displaced and staying with host families. In a survey the humanitarian organization CARE conducted in January, 56 percent of Gaza residents contacted said they were hosting displaced people. UN OCHA, “The Humanitarian Monitor,” February 2009, page 10,, accessed September 1, 2009; OCHA, “UN Flash Appeal for Gaza,” February 2, 2009,, accessed September 2, 2009; CARE phone interviews with 525 people, conducted in January, cited by OCHA, “Situation Report on the Humanitarian Situation in the Gaza Strip – No. 15,” 20-21 January 2009,

[5] Human Rights Watch telephone interviews and email correspondence with three humanitarian agencies and NGOs, March 21 and 22, 2010.  The international humanitarian workers did not want to be identified, either due to internal policy or for fear that their access to Gaza would be limited as a result of criticisms.

[6]Portland Trust , “Palestinian Economic Bulletin, Issue 42,” March 2010, p. 1, citing “Gazan engineer Ali Abu Shalah,” on file with Human Rights Watch.

[7]OCHA, A Protracted Crisis of Human Dignity, December 2009,

[8] Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Humanitarian aid to Gaza during IDF operation,” January 18, 2009,

[9] Oxfam International, “Gaza Weekly Update: November 1- 7 2009,” on file with Human Rights Watch.

[10] OCHA, “Protection of Civilians,” December 9-15, 2009,, accessed January 10, 2010.

[11] UNRWA, Updated Quick Response Plan for Gaza: An Assessment of Needs Six Months After the War, August 2009, pp. 5, 9,, accessed September 5, 2009.

[12] UNRWA, Updated Quick Response Plan for Gaza.

[13]Britain Palestine All Parliamentary Group, One year on from war: a report on the humanitarian and political situation in Gaza, p. 9, March 22, 2010,, accessed March 23, 2010.

[14] “Secretary-General's briefing to the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, including the Question of Palestine,” March 24, 2010.

[15] Gisha, Red Lines Crossed: Destruction of Gaza’s Infrastructure, August 2009, pp. 18, 21,, accessed September 12, 2009.

[16] Gisha, Red Lines Crossed, ibid.

[17] OCHA and Association of International Development Agencies, “The Gaza Blockade: Children and Education Fact Sheet,” July 28, 2009,, accessed July 28, 2009. The education system of Gaza serves approximately 450,000 children and adolescents through 373 government schools, 221 UNRWA schools and 36 private schools. OCHA, “Rapid needs assessment report,” January 30, 2009, p. 1,

[18] Private Sector Coordination Council (PSCC), Gaza Private Sector: Post-War Status and Needs, February 25, 2009, p. 3,, accessed July 25, 2009.

[19] Palestinian Federation of Industries (PFI) and Konrad Adenaur Stiftung, The Need for a Post-War Development Strategy in the Gaza Strip: Overview and Analysis of Industrial Damage and its Grave Consequences, March 2009, p. 13,, accessed September 4, 2009.

[20] PFI, The Need for a Post-War Development Strategy in the Gaza Strip, March 2009, p.8.

[21]Gaza Private Sector: Post-War Status and Needs, February 25, 2009, p. 5. The percentage was measured in terms of “potential” capacity because, in the majority of cases, Israel’s blockade on imports of cement into Gaza had already led most of these factories to stop operating prior to the war.

[22] OHCA, Agriculture Sector Report: Impact of Gaza Crisis, March 2, 2009,, accessed July 1, 2009.

[23] OHCA, Agriculture Sector Report: Impact of Gaza Crisis, March 2, 2009.

[24] UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “The humanitarian situation in Gaza and FAO’s response,” January 23, 2009,, accessed June 15, 2009.

[25] Kim Sengupta and Donald Macintyre, “Israeli cabinet divided over fresh Gaza surge,” The Independent, January 13, 2009,

[26] Israel Channel 10 news, “Livni warns Hamas,” January 19, 2009; cited in PCATI, No Second Thoughts, p. 28.

[27] Raanan Ben-Zur, “Yishai: Destroy 100 houses for each rocket fired,” Ynet, February 2, 2009,,7340,L-3665517,00.html, accessed November 30, 2009.

[28] Reuters, “Israel warns Hizbullah war would invite destruction,” Ynet, October 3, 2008,,7340,L-3604893,00.html, accessed July 10, 2009; Amos Harel, “IDF plans to use disproportionate force in next war,” Haaretz, October 5, 2008,, accessed July 10, 2009.

[29] Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, 1977, Article 51 (5)(a).

[30] Human Rights Watch interview with 1st Sgt. L, Jerusalem, February 13, 2009. The sergeant also provided information to Breaking the Silence.

[31] Breaking the Silence, Operation Cast Lead: Soldiers’ Testimonies from Operation Cast Lead, Gaza 2009, July 15, 2009, p. 9.

[32] Breaking the Silence, Operation Cast Lead, pp. 64-65.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Breaking the Silence, Operation Cast Lead, p. 65.

[35] Breaking the Silence, Operation Cast Lead, p. 67.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview with 1st Sgt. L, Jerusalem, February 13, 2009.

[37] Yaakov Katz, “Army creating ‘security zone’ in Gaza,” Jerusalem Post, January 11, 2009,, accessed July 30, 2009.

[38]Erin Cunningham, “UN: Israeli buffer zone eats up 30 percent of Gaza’s arable land,” Christian Science Monitor, June 1, 2009,, accessed January 25, 2010.

[39] A civilian object previously used as a military objective (because, for instance, enemy forces sometime earlier deployed there) is not a valid military target; its destruction would be a form of unlawful punitive destruction.

[40] Breaking the Silence, Operation Cast Lead, p. 83.

[41] Breaking the Silence, Operation Cast Lead, p. 84.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Transcript of Breaking the Silence interview with D-9 driver, Jerusalem, January 27, 2009, on file with Human Rights Watch.  Breaking the Silence published parts of the interview in Operation Cast Lead, July 15, 2009, available at

[44] Transcript of Breaking the Silence interview with D-9 driver, Jerusalem, January 27, 2009, on file with Human Rights Watch. 

[45] Breaking the Silence, Operation Cast Lead, July 15, 2009, “Testimony 9 – Rules of Engagement and House Demolitions,” p. 23.

[46] See, e.g., Human Rights Watch, Razing Rafah: Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip, 2004,

[47] Anshel Pfeffer, “Gaza soldiers speak out,” The Jewish Chronicle, March 5, 2009,, accessed June 24, 2009.

[48]Amos Harel, “Shooting and crying,” Haaretz, April 28, 2009,, accessed June 26, 2009.

[49] Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), TheOperation in Gaza, December 27, 2008 – January 18, 2009: Factual and Legal Aspects, July 29, 2009, paragraph 438.

[50] Israel MFA, TheOperation in Gaza, July 2009, paragraph 184.

[51] Breaking the Silence, “Testimony 23: Rules of Engagement and Home Searches,” Operation Cast Lead, July 15, 2009, p. 52.

[52] Breaking the Silence, “Testimony 20: Rules of Engagement,” Operation Cast Lead, July 15, 2009, p. 46.

[53] For example, see the IDF video, “Weapons in Gaza mosque struck by Israel air force, January 1, 2009,” posted to YouTube by the user “Idfnadesk,”, accessed October 1, 2009. 

[54] Human Rights Watch is not aware of any cases where Palestinian armed groups destroyed or damaged homes or other civilian objects in Gaza in the kinds of unlawful actions that are the subject of this report, whether in deliberate or reckless attacks that lacked military necessity, or disproportionately or indiscriminately.

[55]Israel MFA, The Operation In Gaza, July 2009, Paragraphs 438, 439.